Thursday, 14 August 2014

Audio book review - John Julius Norwich, "Shakespeare's Kings"

Or, to give it its full title, Shakespeare's Kings: the Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485.

I'm loving this - it is, pretty much, what the title says: a review of history from Edward III through to Richard III, and a comparison between history and Shakespeare's retelling of it. "Edward III?" you say. Yes, I was surprised too, but it appears that recent textual analysis suggests that it was at least partly written by Shakespeare (the wide range of opinions on the whole authorship question of his plays aside!).

As usual, I'm listening to it slightly fragmentarily on my commute, which has been aided by a few weekend round trips to Ely for rehearsals. The approach Norwich takes is to cover the historical period of one of the plays, look at the actual history, with reference to contemporary sources, predominantly Hollinshed, and then step back and compare what we know against what Shakespeare wrote. It's a fun and interesting approach, and in addition to being a good history lesson, leaves me wanting to grab a copy of the Complete BBC Shakespeare, the Branagh Henry V and the BBC's new "Hollow Crown" series.

My one gripe: the reader has a slightly forced delivery, and a tendency to pause before... complicated words, or words in... Fran├žais. As it were. Other than that? really enjoying it.


  1. Would it be a good read from the perspective of someone who hasn't consumed Shakespeare's histories?

    1. Depends on what you're after. I'd say the Alison Weir - - is the better history book, covering Richard II onwards. If you have an interest in learning more about the sources and/or what Shakespeare does with them, Norwich is better, As an audiobook, the Weir is much better read, too.


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